Last year was a record season for false albacore (albies) in Rhode Island, and with massive schools of small bait setting up for the past month, all indications point towards the potential for a repeat this year. Expect a big year for albies, but at the same time be prepared to also catch bluefish and stripers along the way.
On some days last fall false albacore seemed to be everywhere. At times there were even good numbers of them far up into Narragansett Bay, a rare occurrence. On many outings I found albies along with stripers and bluefish in the mix. These three predators were usually feeding on early-fall schools of peanut bunker and bay anchovies.
Four of the last five years have delivered huge numbers of albies to our shores. Their numbers have been phenomenal even when compared to past good years. In addition, these hardtails have lasted a long time, sometimes going on the rampage for two months. In years past we would be lucky to have them around for three weeks. Times have changed, and I believe the warming ocean has had a positive effect on albie fishing here in southern New England.
Albies have always been a September fish, and that fact has not changed. While there are often rumors swirling around about albies appearing in late August, September is really the month that delivers. Expect these fish to blitz the Rhode Island oceanfront about the second week in September. Last year I landed my first one on September 14 along the Rhode Island shoreline, though some fish were caught a couple of days prior to that. These fish are like no others on the initial arrival. One day there are none, and the next day there are seemingly millions of them. The start of the run is usually spectacular with loads of fish that tend to be easier to catch than at the finish.
Albies are predators in search of food just like stripers and bluefish. For that reason, these three predators are sometimes found in the same areas. Last year on October 16, for example, I stumbled onto one of the biggest blitzes of the year in the daytime along a rocky stretch of Narragansett. Upon arriving in the spot, which did not have a single fisherman present, my eyes were drawn to explosions of fish a good distance off the shore. These quick blasts and with torpedo-like quickness along the surface were albies for sure. They were chasing schools of peanut bunker that were so thick they looked like big, black patches of moving water. A closer look near shore revealed big whirls in the white water, but they turned out to be stripers. In-between the two were other distinct swirls and surface jumps. I wasn’t sure what these were at first, but later discovered they were bluefish.
It’s always a tough decision as to what to use when you have all three species in front of you. I’m a big fan of using a float with a Deceiver fly to catch albies, but that fly is a waste of time when toothy blues are around. The fly does not stand a chance against a blue, and they will often cut them off in the blink of an eye. So my lure of choice on this day, my usual second choice, is metal. I like the Kastmaster XL as it is durable and it will catch all three species of fish, but other metals work as well.
While the albies were around, I stuck with the metal and caught all three species of fish in quick time. It was my hat trick of the month, an event that always excites! What proved to be unique about this day was the fact that everything was good size. The blues went from 8 pounds well up into the low teens; the stripers were generally all big schoolies and small keepers from 26 to 32 inches; and the albies were 6- to 9-pounders.
At one point the albies seemed to disappear. While the metal fooled a few stripers and blues, these fish were not that crazy about this lure. I switched to a float and bucktail jig at that point and it killed the stripers in close, and the combo was effective in fooling the blues, too. Although the bucktail hair on the jig was given a bit of a trim after multiple bluefish, the homemade bucktail jig was good to land several blues and multiple stripers before needing replacement. The day ended with a score of 35 stripers (at least half of them keepers), seven big blues and four albies. This proved to be one of the best fall days of 2017 for me!
I am always aware that albies, blues and stripers can be in the same waters at the same time, but when I only see fish quickly blitzing and blasting on the surface way out, my focus turns to catching albies. Most of the time the albies will be around minus the stripers and bluefish. More times than not those blitzing albies will be a long cast off the shore. For that reason, I am geared to fish long as I often use a long cast reel (Shimano Ultegra 4500 spooled with 30-pound braid) along with either a 9- or a 10-foot rod.
The very best albie lure out there is a float and fly. I make my own with wooden eggs purchased in a craft store, and I drill them and wire them. Many tackle shops near the oceanfront stock these. I run about 3 feet of 30-pound mono off the float and tie on a homemade, blue-tailed Deceiver fly. This lure set-up, when paired with my long-cast outfit, gives me a booming cast to reach blitzing fish way out. Just pop it along slowly, and keep an eye on the surface for an explosion in back of the float.
Albies are known to be fussy at times. They have that big eye that gives them ultra-sharp vision. Especially in calm and clear water, these fish can be mighty tough to catch. My advice is to stock a number of known albie lures and keep switching if one is not working. If my float and fly rig is not getting the job done, I go with metal. I go with a Hogy Epoxy jig at times, too. I might go with a plastic Albie Snax, or I might even go with a small bucktail jig. On some days one of these choices becomes the flavor of the day, but in the long run, the float and fly will deliver more times than not.
Albie fever will begin to hit most shore and boat fishermen around the beginning of September along the Rhode Island oceanfront. These speedsters have become our number one saltwater gamefish in September, and they can blow up anywhere between Newport and Westerly where bait gathers. Be prepared to find both stripers and bluefish with the blitzing albies on certain days. Yes, all three can be around when the timing is right, and that’s when the September hat trick becomes a possibility.